Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

Everybody loves a baby. Well perhaps not everyone, and after the umpteenth interrupted night, even parents can feel less than warm towards their offspring, but most people, most of the time would find it hard not to love a baby. They appeal to the protective instincts in us. They remind us of a time when life was uncomplicated, and all ahead of us. They are symbols of innocence and hope.

It’s not just human babies that are appealing. Kittens, puppies, foals, chicks, lambs… they are surefire winners too. Many people have ended up with pets they never meant to have because they just couldn't resist that bundle of fur. Animal rescue centres are always having to pick up the pieces when that adorable kitten or puppy turns into a full grown cat or dog, and loses its baby appeal.

That’s the thing about babies. They are just the beginning. Whatever species they are, they don’t stay babies for long. They grow up. But what do they grow up into?

The first of the pictures I've put in the service sheet is a baby which I have to confess is not one  
that really appeals... I’m sure its parents love it, though. Obviously it’s a bird, but can you guess what sort of bird? (It’s a parrot, in case you can't guess.)
And what about the baby below it, a tadpole). It will grow into a frog, but you’d never guess that to look at it.

The third picture is one that is much easier – newborn babies, who will grow up into adult human beings like us. And yet, in a sense they are just as much a mystery as that awkward looking parrot chick or the tadpole. Those human babies all look pretty much the same to us. It would be quite hard to tell them apart – I’m surprised there aren’t more mistakes made in maternity hospitals than there are, though perhaps some go unnoticed! And yet, each of those children is a unique individual, who will go on to lead a life that is quite different from all the others. Who can tell at this stage what they will become. One of them might do something extraordinary, win a Nobel prize or an OIympic medal. One might struggle through life. One might live quietly, another might end up famous. You just can’t tell. To us, they might look the same, but to their parents each one is full of potential, a child they have lots of hopes for, and probably some fears as well. Sometimes it takes a mother or father really to see what might be in a child as well as what is.

In our Gospel reading today we meet two mothers who have seen the potential in their children even before they have been born. Elizabeth is expecting the child who will become John the Baptist, the preacher and teacher who will prepare the way for Jesus. And Mary, of course, is carrying that very special child, whose message and ministry will change the world, announcing God’s love for us all. Whether this encounter ever really happened or not, we’ll never know, but Luke’s message is clear. Right from the start these are children who will have a profound impact, and their mothers know it.

Mary and Elizabeth will shape the early lives of these two boys and set them on the right road – a hard road for them as mothers, but as a result, both John and Jesus will also learn to see the potential in others. John will call people to repentance, telling them that they can change and become  more and better than they were. He will spot Jesus himself and acclaim him as God’s special one. And Jesus will make a life’s work of seeing God at work in unexpected places and people. He looks at a rough and ready fisherman called Simon and says “you will be Peter – the rock people will look to for strength and stability”. He looks at all sorts of people that others have written off, dodgy characters, people who look as if their lives are all washed up and proclaims that they are God’s beloved children, just as we all are.

Mary and Elizabeth must have done a good job to equip their children with this far sightedness.

It is something that all parents are called to do, and to many it comes quite naturally. Most  parents love and believe in their children even when no one else does, sticking by them when no one else will, seeing potential in them everyone else misses. It doesn’t always happen, of course, and no one does this perfectly all the time. Sometimes parents weren’t parented well themselves or have other problems which take up so much of their energy and attention that they just aren’t able to give their children what they want and need. 

I wonder what potential your parents saw in you, or see in you still? Perhaps they were your number one fans, supporting you and cheering you on as you went for whatever goals seemed right for you. Perhaps they weren’t so good – pulling you down rather than lifting you up, or just failing to look closely enough to see you as a separate individual at all.

The good news of our first Bible reading is that, even if people don’t get the mothering and fathering they need and deserve from their human parents, we all also have a heavenly parent who sees us as we really are no matter how far we have gone wrong, or how timid we are about owning our own gifts. God sees what we can be as well as what we are, and our first reading shows him doing just that for a young man who becomes the famous prophet Jeremiah.

I have no idea what Jeremiah’s mother and father were like, but it seems to come as a huge surprise to him that he might have any special role. “I appointed you a prophet to the nations” says God to him. “What, me?” says Jeremiah, “but I’m just a boy”. Maybe he is, but God sees that this isn’t all he is. He is also going to be a prophet to the nations, someone whose message will go out into the whole world. And God was right, because here we are, reading it…

Jeremiah isn’t just lacking in imagination when he finds it hard to believe that he might have a special job to do. He’s obviously also a bit frightened – and why not? Some of the things he’ll have to say to his nation, which is in rather a mess at that moment, are going to be hard for them to swallow. In fact they end up throwing him in a cesspit to try to silence him. How is he going to find the strength and courage to do what God calls him to? He isn’t some kind of superman, just a human being like the rest of us.
What God tells him , though, is that this isn’t really about him. He isn’t going to be given some sort of superpower which will enable him to do this. What will matter is that, just as he is, God will be with him. “Do not be afraid,” says God, “for I am with you to deliver you.”

Today, on Mothering Sunday we celebrate and give thanks for all who mother us – whether those are our mothers or not. We rejoice in those who see the potential in us, who see not just who we are, but who we can grow into.  Whatever age we are, that growth can still happen. We also ask God to help us to encourage others and help them to be whatever they can be.  Most of all, though, we celebrate the love of God who sees us all as his children, and who knows that each one of us can be more than we have dreamed, people who love others, people who make a difference, people who can change the world.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Living Water

John 4.5-42 & Exodus 17.1-7

I know how Moses feels with all those people moaning at him. I know because I used to be in the Scouts and I took on the burdensome responsibility of being a Patrol Leader. Most of the time I didn’t have to do much other than line the chaps up for inspection. But then came the annual night hike, across the wilds of East Anglia with an Ordnance Survey map, a compass and a 2p coin in case of the need to make an emergency telephone call. No satellite mapping on the device in your pocket, no phoning a friend. Perhaps that’s why I got lost, in the mud and cold in a bleak country landscape with howling wind and pouring rain.

The scouts in my patrol were tired, hungry, cold, wet, fed up with me for not reading the map correctly and making them walk further for longer, though thankfully I don’t recall anyone threatening to stone me. Eventually we got back on track, things seemed OK again, the crisis had passed.

Anyone who has ever set out to do something for others only to end up being moaned at by them will know a little of what Moses must have felt.

Of course there was a bit more at stake in Moses case. The Israelites were on a journey from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land. God has already met their need for food providing manna when they were hungry but that crisis has passed and now they fear that lack of water will cause them and their animals to die. Thirst, dehydration, heat, hardly a combination that inspires patience and understanding in those suffering.

We all like to blame someone else when things are not as we would like them. Politicians are probably the favourites, sports selectors, train operators and the NHS are among many others. "Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?" No sense of ‘all being in this together’ here is there. Hey Moses how can we play our part, how can we help – no chance.

The people of Israel found fault with Moses and with God. Maye this is because deep down they still find fault with themselves. They are not yet in a place where they can appreciate what has been done for them and respond with thankfulness and humility.

The people are testing Moses, questioning his leadership but also questioning God. Real faith is hard to maintain when you are physically depleted, mentally exhausted or broken hearted. It’s not surprising that there are times when all we can do is focus on our immediate need, all I want now is pain relief, sleep, my loved one back. But mature faith builds on our experience of God, giving us something to cling to when all seems lost unlike the Israelites that treat each challenge as if they’ve started afresh again.

Water is also at the centre of our Gospel reading as Jesus meets the Samaritan woman come to draw water from the well.

Most women would come to collect water early morning or late evening in the coolest part of the day but this woman came in the heat of the day, when she was least likely to bump into others, probably she was an outcast, deliberately avoiding the other women.

Devout Jews would not allow themselves to be alone with a woman for reasons of impurity or gossip about their intentions, so no wonder we heard that the disciples were astonished that Jesus was speaking with a woman. Clearly Jesus isn’t bothered by this, he knows what his intentions are and they are not swayed by the expectations of others.

Some commentaries on John’s gospel assume that the woman is of ill repute, that she was responsible for the fact that she had got through several partners or husbands. This disappoints me as it seems to be the same judgmental route that the people in the woman’s village had gone down and why she was likely to be avoiding them.

I expect we have a view or theory when we see someone with a problematic life. When you see the person selling ‘The Big Issue’ what enters your head? He probably got himself in this mess because he blew all his money on booze? She shouldn’t be in our country in the first place, I bet she’s illegal, we don’t want her here?

Are the people in this woman’s village leaping to conclusions rather than supportive? There is one thing that is for certain, being judgmental is one hell of a lot easier than holding your hand out to try and help someone with complex problems. It easy when you can say ‘it’s all of her own doing, I’ve got no time for her’, you can then get back to putting yourself first and running your life as you planned.

I don’t think we should be thinking Zsa Zsa Gabor or Elizabeth Taylor when we think of this lady (9 husbands and 8 marriages, & 7 husbands (Richard Burton twice) respectively). It must have been interesting if you were a regular on the wedding guest list.

The woman lived in a time when religious law meant she had to marry her husband’s brother if he died and a woman without a husband would struggle in Jewish society. You had to have a husband, a father, or a son to take care of you, or you could end up a beggar or a prostitute, or both.

Jesus skillfully guides this quite long conversation allowing the woman to be offhand and cheeky at first, in modern language she says’ why would a Jewish man ask a Samaritan woman for a drink’ and ‘how are you going to get that living water you talk of out of this deep well without a bucket? You can just imagine the wry smile on her face. But the conversation gently and incrementally challenges her until she effectively says ‘when the Messiah comes he’ll sort everything out’, I expect she thought this would enable her to end the conversation without having to seriously contemplate or act upon Jesus’ comments but she couldn’t have been more wrong as Jesus replies ‘I am he.’

Jesus already knows of her situation, senses the pain and disappointment in her life, her exclusion and the day to day drudgery., Jesus does not say “Go and sin no more!” as he does to the woman accused of adultery instead he tells her that the time has come for a life enhancing relationship with God. The time is now.

I expect we are all guilty of putting off some of the really hard things we have to face up to. Things that require serious thought courage, commitment and change. When we take time to acknowledge the depth and grace of God’s love for us it’s impossible not to respond in some positive way. Now the Messiah the woman talks of stands before her how will she respond?

We heard that she runs off to tell others who come to faith as a result but frustratingly we are not told how it ends for her.

Has John done this deliberately, so we have to think for ourselves, maybe even find ourselves in the story? Is the gift she is offered by Jesus so good and so readily available that it’s hard to believe it’s true?

We are left to wonder, which ending do you choose? Was she still stuck in the desert where thirst will always be a problem, or was she able to accept the living water and never be thirsty again?


Kevin Bright

23rd March 2014



Sunday, 9 March 2014

Lent 1: Out of Eden

Be careful what you wish for, people say, because you might get it.

In today’s Old Testament story that seems to be exactly what has happened to Eve.
When the serpent sidles up to her in the Garden of Eden what he offers her seems to be exactly what she wants. She wants to have her eyes opened, and to know good and evil, just like God. And why not? Surely it is a good thing to have your eyes open and to know good and evil. So she and Adam eat the fruit, and what the serpent has said turns out to be absolutely true. Their eyes are opened, and they do know good and evil. Unfortunately what they see with those open eyes is that they are naked, and what they discover about good and evil is that you can know as much as you like about it, but that won’t stop you doing the wrong thing.

This is a story that has captured people’s imagination for millennia. The snake, the fruit, the couple who are seduced into taking just one bite. Even if people know little of the Bible, they recognise these images. The latest Smirnoff advert, (  for a vodka drink called Apple Bite, features a couple walking into a sophisticated night club where they are served by a bartender wreathed in snakes… It’s not explained, but it doesn’t need to be. We all get the reference. They are being presented with what seems like an irresistible temptation, and the implication is that life will be much more fun if they give in.

The story of Adam and Eve has been used in many different ways over the centuries, but often its original message has been twisted by the meanings we’ve thrust on it. That Smirnoff ad, for example, manages both to distort our understanding of sin, making it seem glamorous, and also to distort our understanding of pleasure, by making it seem intrinsically sinful, which isn’t the Bible’s view at all.

But if secular interpretations of the story have been misleading, Christian interpretations have often been just as bad. Christians have used the story to back up restrictive views of gender, sexuality, and the value of learning too; it has often been used as a tool to keep people in their place – especially women.  It has been distorted, as well, though, by being turned into the starting point for what I think is a rather contrived theological grand story, an explanation of life, the universe and everything which I don’t think it was ever intended to be. I’ll say a bit more about that in a minute.

This story almost certainly grew out of an early Middle Eastern folk tale. There are similar stories of the loss of innocence in many cultures, and there’s no evidence to suggest that those who first wrote this story down ever meant it to be read as history. There’s no evidence either that they thought it was going to become as significant as it later did. It’s not mentioned in the Old Testament after these early chapters of Genesis at all. And Jesus never mentions it in any of the Gospels either. Adam gets just one name-check in one Gospel -  Luke Chapter 3 - but only as part of the family tree of Jesus. Luke traces Jesus right back to Adam, who he describes as the son of God. There’s nothing about forbidden fruit at all, or any fall from grace.

The only Biblical writer who really makes anything of this tale is St Paul, as we heard in our second reading today. That‘s probably because he’d grown up in a particular type of Jewish background, in one of the many Jewish communities around the Mediterranean. These ex-pat Jews – Hellenistic Jews, as they were known - were far more influenced by Greek philosophical ideas and methods than those who lived in the heartlands of Judea. They wanted to try to make their Jewish beliefs sound more like the sophisticated Greek philosophy of those around them. So they tried to find patterns in what had been the disconnected books of their scriptures to create a unified whole from them.

Paul grew up in that milieu, so it is natural for him to try to find links between Jewish stories and the story of Jesus, to see echoes of one in the other, to want to make it all fit together somehow. So he talks about Jesus as a second Adam, whose obedience cancels out Adam and Eve’s disobedience. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” as he says elsewhere.

Through historical accident as much as anything else, Paul’s views came to dominate Christian theology, and soon this story came to be seen as a crucial part of the Christian message. It was cast as the problem to which Jesus was the solution, the question to which he was the answer. Humanity had become separated from God by Adam and Eve’s sin, said this view, and the only thing that could bridge the gap was the cross. The story acquired a name - The Fall, with a capital F - something it isn’t ever called in Scripture.
Legends grew up connecting the two events. When Adam lay dying, said one, an angel gave his son, Seth, seeds from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree that had caused all the trouble. Seth placed them in Adam’s mouth as they buried him. From them sprung a tree whose wood was eventually used to make the cross on which Jesus died. 

It has a satisfying neatness to it, but there are a number of problems with this grand story of Fall and Redemption.  
Firstly, to make it work, the story of Adam and Eve really has to be a historical event, located in some actual place and time rather than a myth or a metaphor. But few Christians now would take that view, and that means that the internal logic falls apart somewhat.
Secondly, it treats both the story of Adam and Eve and the death and resurrection of Christ primarily as a sort of metaphysical mystery, something that happened up there, out there, back there, in the distant past, in the heavenly realms. It becomes a sort of divine balancing of the books, utterly remote from us, nothing to do with the reality of our lives and our world, right here and right now.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important for today, it distorts the story of Adam and Eve itself. To make that Fall and Redemption story work, you have to believe that when Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, a great gulf opened up, separating us from God, and that’s not what the story says at all. Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden, they lose that primal state of innocence and security, but the Old Testament is quite clear that God goes with them, out into the wilderness. They meet God again and again out there beyond the borders of Eden, in the shape of burning bushes, angelic visitations, prophetic visions and the still small voice that speaks from deep within their hearts. They might not always notice God or pay attention to what he says, but he is right there all the time, as they  wrestle with the temptations and the burdens of life. Old Testament writers sometimes say they feel as if God is absent or distant, but they just as often talk about his closeness and they delight his presence and blessing in the midst of their troubles.

And that brings us to the Gospel reading. The story of Adam and Eve begins in a garden and ends in a wilderness, where they discover that God is just as much at home as he was amongst the fruit trees and the pastures of Eden. And here is Jesus out in that wilderness too, making the same discovery. At the end of his struggle with Satan we are told that “angels came and waited on him”

In the ancient world the wilderness was seen as a place of great danger, filled with demons, rather than a place of peace. It’s the front-line of the struggle, not a place of retreat. Jesus doesn’t go there to find space or rest, but to do battle with the fears and temptations that would inevitably be in his mind as he started his ministry. Should he choose the easy route of power and popularity, or stick to the road God has called him to, a road of service and sacrifice, confronting oppressive powers and suffering the consequences?  His struggles in the desert prepare him for the life that lies ahead, and his death too. As he hangs on the cross, in a wilderness of pain and fear, the fact that he has discovered that his Father is present with him in this first wilderness – that there is no wilderness where God is not - will really matter. It will matter, too, for those he ministers to - the poor, the sick and the outcast . Their society might have told them that they were out in the wilderness, beyond the pale, but Jesus will proclaim that it isn’t so. In fact, God’s kingdom is growing first and fastest in them. They are the people in whom God is most clearly at work.

The story of Adam and Eve has often had such a weight of interpretation thrust on it, that its truest and most powerful messages have been crushed out of it, but they are still there if we care to look.
On the one hand it tells us something quite obvious. This world is not as it should be. Life is not as it should be. It’s natural for us to look around at the world and wonder how it came to this, what went wrong, why people aren’t kinder to each other, why bad things happen. We look at Ukraine or Syria, and think, “why can’t people just get along?” We look at ourselves and think “Why is it that I really mean to make the right choices and yet so often fall for the same old temptations?” The story of Adam and Eve reflects our awareness of the reality, and wrongness, of sin and suffering.

But the story also tells us something that isn’t at all obvious. That God is with us in these times of struggle and failure and confusion. He keeps pace with us as we wander about in circles. He hallows the stony, thorny ground of our lives with his presence as he comes among us in Christ, and he sows the seeds of his love in us, so that his kingdom can grow there, where it is most needed.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sunday before Lent: Down from the mountain

So here we are in the Gospel reading, on top of the world – well, we’re up a mountain at any rate. But you know what that feels like. You can see for miles. Down below the cars look like ants on the distant roads. The air is clear and there’s a tremendous sense of space.

Perhaps it’s because mountains seem to mark a boundary between earth and sky, a place from which we look out into the infinite that people have so often used the imagery of the mountaintop to describe overpowering experiences of mystery and wonder, times when they have felt the closeness of God, a sense of the divine.

Moses is on a mountain in the Old Testament reading today. He’s on Mount Sinai, way out in the wilderness, wandering around with the slaves he had led out of Egypt. It is a few months on from their dramatic escape through the waters of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s troops hard in pursuit. The jubilation and relief of that moment is well and truly in the past, and now the hard reality is hitting home. Sand, sand and more sand. Burning sun. A fragile existence, dependent on the mysterious gift of manna without which they would starve. The people are feeling downhearted, and so is Moses. Where are they going? And what will they do when they get there? They are a bunch of ex-slaves, with no experience of running their own affairs, let alone founding a nation. It all seems pointless. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” say some of them. “Let’s turn back. We’d rather have slavery in Egypt with a meal at the end of the day than freedom in this god-forsaken desert.” But this is not such a god-forsaken place as they think, as Moses finds out when he hears God’s voice, calling to him to come up the mountain to meet with him. And when he comes down, everything is different.

Moses has met with God on mountains before. The burning bush which got him into all this in the first place was on a mountainside. This, though, will be an even more awesome experience. This time God doesn’t just appear as a burning bush, but as a devouring fire.. Moses is swallowed up in his holiness for forty days and forty nights, and when he emerges his face shines with glory.

But this isn’t just intended to be a personal, mystical “high” for Moses, a spiritual shot in the arm that will encourage him in the days ahead. It is what he brings down the mountain that will really matter. He comes down with the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written, the summary of a Law which will shape this band of refugees into the nation God wants them to be.
For the Jewish people the Law of Moses wasn’t – isn’t - seen as a burden, just a dry list of rules. It is a precious gift. The fact that God gave them this guidance was a sign for them that he cared about them and was present with them, not just on a distant mountain but in the nitty-gritty of their daily lives, to be encountered in the process of living in his way. This story encapsulated that belief.

The Gospel story of the Transfiguration echoes its message  quite deliberately – indeed Moses shows up in it himself. This time it is Jesus who glows with dazzling whiteness on the mountaintop. But again, it is not the mountaintop experience which we are meant to focus on – no one can live on a mountaintop. It is what comes down the mountain that matters. Moses brings down the tablets of the Law, the word of God to the Israelites. Peter, James and John come down with God’s Living Word, with a new awareness of God’s presence among them in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him” says the voice from heaven.

For all their strangeness, both of these stories are actually far more about God’s presence in our ordinary lives than they are about mystical moments up there in the clouds somewhere. When we stop to think about it, that is just what we should expect, because they weren’t written for people who were on a mountaintop, on a high, full of confidence and joy. Quite the reverse in fact. The Old Testament emerged from the time of the Babylonian exile, a time when the Jewish people thought it was all over for them. The New Testament was intended for an equally battered and struggling audience.  The early church was a tiny little movement, made up of small handfuls of people, often on the fringes of their society, meeting in each other’s homes, often in secret, sometimes facing real hostility and persecution. They were ridiculed and vilified for following a man who had been shamefully crucified as a blasphemer and troublemaker. They might affirm that he had risen from death, but how likely did that sound to anyone else? They often found themselves swimming against the tide of their society as they tried to live and love as Jesus had taught them, and it must sometimes have felt like a hard, dispiriting slog.

The story of the Transfiguration, like the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, told them that God was with them when they felt like that. He didn’t stay on the mountaintop, in splendid isolation, out of reach of all but a favoured few. He came down the mountain into the ordinary situations of their lives, into their struggles and sadnesses too. He came down the mountain to the cross, and to the silence of the tomb.

They needed to hear that message, and there are many today who need it too. Aid workers in refugee camps around the borders of Syria, trying to cope with thousands of traumatised and vulnerable people with only the most rudimentary facilities, and every day more people streaming in. Social workers dealing with the endless complex needs of families beset by multiple deprivation, feeling defeated by the sense that they are trying to sweep back an ever-encroaching tide. Politicians and diplomats trying to build peace between communities and nations that have been at loggerheads for decades or even centuries – Northern Ireland’s tensions have been in the news yet again this week. What hope is there in situations like these of success?
We can feel just as bleak about the future for our personal lives sometimes too. If you’ve applied for hundreds of jobs and never got an interview, if you have beaten one illness only for another to strike, if you have slogged through another lonely day with no one to talk to, and realise that tomorrow will be no different, why should you not give up? What is there to keep you going?

“Where is God?” we sometimes cry. It can be a cry of lament or a shout of anger hurled at the heavens – there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But I wonder what would happen if we were to ask that question as a genuine  enquiry more often than we do. Where is God? Perhaps our problem is that when we cry out like that we have often already made up our minds that wherever he is, he can’t here, in the midst of our struggles and doubts, mired in confusion, beset by failures. We strain our eyes to the distant mountaintops thinking, “if only I could get up there, to that place of light and joy and confidence, I would surely find him,” when all the time he is right there at our elbow, longing for us to turn around and spot him.

Earlier this week I was talking to someone who told me that in his church the vicar had decided last summer, just for a few weeks during the holidays, to ask for one person to share some way in which they felt they had caught a glimpse of God that week, been aware of him at work. He thought it might fill that summer holiday lull. Nearly six months on, the congregation are still sharing. They won’t let him give it up. Every Sunday there has been someone keen to share an encounter they have had, a conversation, a chance to show love or to receive love, a small joy that has lifted their spirit. As a result the whole congregation has been learning to keep their eyes open to God in their daily lives. I’m not necessarily suggesting that we do that here, but it struck me that asking “Where is God, in my life, right here, right now?” was a deeply healthy habit to get into – personally or corporately. It’s a habit which can help to sustain us in times of trouble, encouraging us to look for what is good in the world and to work with it.

The answer to that question might come in many different ways, as that church has found.  We might spot him in acts of kindness given or received, in something someone says to us, in new questions we find ourselves asking – God can often be found just as much in the questions as in the answers. We might find him in the stillness of prayer, or as we come together to worship, to share the bread and wine that reminds us of the suffering of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection and says to us that God is in them both.

His presence may not always seem like a blaze of light that fills the sky, but often what we really need far more than that is “a lamp shining in a dark place” as the second reading put it, a lamp that will sustain our hope  “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.”

I’d like to finish this sermon with a minute or two of quiet, so that you can ask yourself that question “where is God?” “Where have I spotted him in my life this week, in something that has happened, something someone has said, a new door that has opened, a small act of reconciliation or love?”  Perhaps you’d like to tell me, or someone else, about it after the service, to encourage them. God has come down from the mountain, says the Bible. He is present with us, So where is he in our lives today?